Telecoms, ISPs partner in spam fight

A group of international telecom providers, Internet service providers and software companies plan to form a "neighborhood watch" to oust junk e-mail from their collective networks.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
3 min read
A group of international telecom providers, Internet service providers and software companies plan to form a "neighborhood watch" to oust junk e-mail from their collective networks, in what is the latest industry coalition bent on eradicating spam.

Telecoms and ISPs including Bell Canada, Bell South, Cox, Internet Initiative Japan and IIJ America, along with messaging software company OpenWave Systems, which is leading the initiative, will formally announce their antispam working group Wednesday.

The companies have joined to tackle technical issues related to spam and e-mail viruses at the network level, rather than focus on more topical anti-junk mail methods such as content filtering.

Part of their plan is to watch each others' backs.

"Simply put, we can create a worldwide real-time neighborhood watch. If I am blocking some eastern European IP address, and if I know this spammers' identity, why wouldn't I share that with my neighborhood," said Richard Wong, general manager of the messaging group for OpenWave, whose software is used by ISPs in the group.

That means member ISPs would share information on U.S. and international spammers automatically. Or ISPs would notify each other before blacklisting a set of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses from a rival network that were used for spamming, Wong said. (Today, ISPs typically reject e-mail originating from blacklisted addresses without notifying anyone.) The result would be an ISP code of conduct for spam, he said.

The group is emerging at a time when spam has reached crushing proportions; more than half of all e-mail sent is unsolicited bulk messages. ISPs, marketers, e-mail and software providers are all desperate to find technical solutions to spam outside of the recently enacted federal antispam law, and many of them are coordinating efforts.

AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft have aligned in a separate antispam group to drive technical standards and guidelines that will work for any software or hardware systems. Despite the publicized effort, the group has yet to introduce any proposals.

One objective of the telecom group is to agree on a standard for preventing IP spoofing--the practice of faking the origin of a message--and identification forgery. Both are common calling cards of spammers and the chief obstacles to holding junk mailers accountable. Wong said that the group is looking at emerging technical standards to prevent e-mail spoofing, such as Designated Mailer Protocol (DMP), which the Internet Engineering Task Force is in the process of validating as a protocol. DMP is similar to Caller ID but for e-mail, and would help ISPs indentify that a sender is legitimate.

For any standard to be effective, all of the ISPs must adopt it.

"This collaboration will make it easier for us to address the issues more efficiently and defend our customers from messaging abuse," said a statement from Todd Dean, director of data operations at Cox.

The group held its first meeting on Dec. 16, 2003, in Boston, and plans to hold an antispam summit in the spring. It currently has 22 members and plans to grow that number to more than 100 in the next two months, Wong said. OpenWave is in talks with Micosoft, Yahoo and AOL about joining the collaboration.